Fr. Thomas ministers to staff and visitors at Yellowstone Park, but this does not
stop these elk from visiting the non-denominational chapel at Mammoth Springs.
SPREADINGTHE GOOD NEWS
by Fr. Thomas Wordekemper
and Fr. Warren Heidgen
One aspect of every Christian life is to proclaim the Good News to others.
Monks should certainly do this, and monk-priests are often called upon to do this
in places away from their monasteries. This summer, two of our members are in Wyoming.
Father Warren is at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cheyenne and Fr. Thomas is at Yellowstone
Fr. Warren has transferred his monastic stability to Assumption Abbey from
Holy Cross Abbey of Cañon City, Colorado, which recently closed. This summer, Fr.
Warren is assigned to the Cathedral in Cheyenne to provide backup for priests going
on vacation or priests escorting the Wyoming Diocese pilgrims to World Youth Day
in Sydney, Australia. The Cathedral is a busy place: three Masses each day, a hospital
2 blocks away with a major trauma center, in addition to the normal routine of parish
life—confessions, appointments, people wanting to talk, baptisms, funerals, weddings,
etc. The Cathedral rectory hosts a dinner each noon for the clergy of the city. So,
on any given day, there may be up to ten around the table. Fr. Warren notes that
this is a great way to get a pulse on what is happening in the Diocese. Cheyenne
is the only diocese in Wyoming.
Fr. Thomas spends Monday through Friday in Cody, WY, at the headquarters of
the Yellowstone Park “parish.” His 400 mile weekend trek begins on Friday when he
departs for the Park, specifically Old Faithful, where the parish provides a camper
for his overnight stays. Mass is celebrated at 4:00 p.m. Saturday at an outdoor amphitheater
at Canyon, about a 75 minute drive from Old Faithful. It is not unusual to hear or
see bears at that Mass site, so the bear spray repellant must be handy for the congregation
to use, just in case. After Mass he drives another 75 minutes to the 6:30 p.m. Mass
at Mammoth, located about 5 miles from the Montana border. The church, a quaint Tudor-style
built in the 1930s, is used for many interdenominational services. Sunday begins
with 9:00 a.m. Mass at the recreation hall at Old Faithful followed by 11:30 Mass
at Lake Village recreation hall, another 75 minute drive. Last summer, Fr. Thomas
drove 5,800 miles.
Father Thomas never knows what he will encounter on these drives. At times
one can be held up by a herd of bison ambling down the center of the road, a bunch
of elk browsing along the shoulder, a wolf dashing across the traffic or bears eating
berries in the ditches. However, the most dangerous road hazard is the tourist! It
is amazing what people will do to get a picture of wildlife: stop in the middle of
the road on a blind curve, leave doors wide open to get a photo of a bear, bison,
elk, or duck! Even though signs everywhere caution against approaching wildlife,
people do so anyway or send their children near an animal for a memorable photo opportunity.
One may think the best part of this job would be the beautiful scenery; the
abundance of wildlife; the fascinating and diverse geography ranging from the shooting
geysers, to bubbling mud pots, to soaring mountains or clean, fresh air and clear
blue skies. However, the most rewarding part, for Fr. Thomas, is the celebration
of the Eucharist with people who want to be there. That may not sound like much,
but you’d be amazed at the amount of energy and enthusiasm and plain gratitude that
so many people have for the opportunity to attend Mass in the Park. Fr. Thomas has
met people from Peru to Scandinavia, from California to Japan and many, many points
Together, Fr. Warren and Fr. Thomas provide important service to the people
of Wyoming, and another way that monks of Assumption Abbey can serve the greater
Church and world. Celebrating the Mass with such a diverse group of people each week
who desire to thank God for the gift of life, the beauty of creation, for the grace
to recognize God in creation and in our brothers and sisters, makes preaching the
Good News to all peoples a rewarding experience for both monks.